Tiger of Jelutong will roar no more
A COLOURFUL and controversial Malaysian politician, known as the "Tiger of Jelutong" to his admirers and dubbed "contemptible" by his enemies, died in a car accident yesterday.
The feisty Karpal Singh, best known for his run-ins over three decades with former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, died when his car collided with a lorry while he was on his way from Kuala Lumpur to Penang.
Mr Singh, 73, a well-known lawyer who had defended Anwar Ibrahim in his sodomy trials, had been scheduled to attend a court case in Penang.
Ironically, it was another road accident in 2005 that had sent his life spiralling downhill and left him wheelchair-bound. But, with a grit that was typical of him, he fought his way back to both Parliament and the courtroom.
The son of a cowherd from Penang, Mr Singh never shied away from a fight. The signs were evident early, when he attended the University of Singapore in the 1960s. He was barred from the hostel for protesting against the university's decision to mandate a "certificate of political suitability" for enrolling students.
The race riots in 1969 saw him join the opposition Democratic Action Party in Malaysia and, by 1978, he was a Member of Parliament for Jelutong - a seat he was to hold for 21 years.
He made headlines for criticising the King of Malaysia for allegedly assaulting two men in the 1980s.
With Dr Mahathir dominating the political landscape, and Mr Singh in the opposition, a clash between the two strong personalities was inevitable.
It started during Malaysia's judicial crisis in 1988, when Mr Singh was arrested under the now repealed Internal Security Act. He called upon Dr Mahathir to make an unqualified apology to three Malaysian Supreme Court judges who were removed from office. Twenty years later, he was still harping on the issue.
In a letter dated April 3, 2008, Dr Mahathir wrote to him: "You are moved by pure hatred and I cannot respond to people who can never accept reality... I am sure you will make use of this letter to dirty my name further. That is your right. I think you are the most contemptible of politicians and individuals."
Part of Dr Mahathir's anger stemmed from other accusations that Mr Singh made along the way. While defending Anwar in the sodomy trial, he had pointed to high levels of arsenic in Anwar's body and told the court: "Someone out there wants to get rid of him." For this, the lawyer was charged with sedition.
He earned his nickname in a face-off with politician Samy Vellu, when he told him: "You can be the lion and I can be the tiger, because there are no lions in Malaysia."
Mr Singh's world came crashing down when an accident in 2005 confined him to a wheelchair. But he pointed to a raintree which had been chopped back once, but subsequently had green branches growing from it. "The tree remained a source of inspiration to Karpal," his biographer Tim Donoghue said.
Soon, he was baring his fangs again, representing the family of a Mongolian model, whose family claimed she was murdered, and Anwar, again, in his 2012 sodomy trial.
He became a more dangerous tiger after his accident. "He had nothing more to lose and feared no one as he went about his work in Malaysia's courts and Parliament," said Mr Donoghue.